Episode Three – Quoth the Raven
He was my best friend.
There wasn’t anything more to it. From the moment he had first joined the Turks, when we were both rookies and just starting out in ShinRa, Vincent and I were always paired together. We balanced each other out perfectly. While I was studiously outgoing and demonstrative, he was quiet and contemplative. I was often considered the jokester of the group, and many people couldn’t understand how he, with his reclusive ways, could handle being around me.
I think I was one of the few people who could draw a smile from him, even in his most downcast moods. I swear, Vincent was quite the moody guy. He was nearly always frowning, and he disappeared into his mind often. I wondered where it was he went when he did that and teased him every chance I got. He wasn’t mean or cold completely, just contemplative.
I never knew about his parents or even his true name. And he never knew that mine wasn’t Raven. That was how the Turks were. Who we were before, didn’t matter. It was only important that our lives belonged to ShinRa. Anything else was null and void.
I admit, there were times I was jealous of my friend. He was better looking than me and a much better shot, but still, his personality left a little to be desired, though he never lacked for company. Kind of the bang `em and leave `em type, you know? As if he was afraid of getting really close to anyone. Not like me, ah, dear sweet Midori… I wonder if she waited for me, though I doubt it.
And Vincent didn’t discriminate either, pretty boys, pretty girls, it didn’t matter to him. As long as somewhere was there to fill his empty bed at night when he was feeling particularly lonely, though from the outside he seemed perfectly fine. Not that he was a particularly promiscuous man. Just that when he did meet someone, he never stayed with them long. Only I knew the truth, I could see through his barriers.
I never crossed that line with him, never wanted to. I was perfectly straight, thank you very much, although even I could admit that there was something undeniably addictive and attractive about my partner.
Like I said, we never spoke of life before the Turks, but I often wondered what made him so afraid like that. Sometimes… it even seemed he was afraid to be himself, as if any moment someone was going to berate him and tell him he was doing it all wrong, living his life improperly or some bullshit. Hmph. Like becoming a Turk was “anyone’s” true desire in life.
He was a great Turk, cold and calculating to a fault, always one to follow the rules and finish the assignment or job no matter the situation or errs. He counted on me to watch his back, and I was never more proud than when he made commander. And who do you think he assigned as his second? Yours truly, of course! What can I say? Vincent was a good friend, though you couldn’t tell it from a glance.
We used to go to bars together, he and I. While I would flirt with the ladies and flash my pearly whites, he would sit and contemplate over a beer and a smoke, nevertheless drawing a crowd of admirers and sycophants. It was always amusing to me, but he seemed oblivious to it all. Like he didn’t know the true power he had with his looks and very air of “I don’t give a damn”. Girls and men alike were attracted to that.
I remember this one time, we went to a club, my rather sad attempt at trying to get him to loosen up a little and just enjoy life. It took several shots of whiskey before I could even convince to him to mingle, a few more before I got him on the dance floor. I hadn’t expected much, after all, he was not a man used to going out a lot. But he surprised in the absolute daring way that he MOVED.
The man was a god on the dance floor, easily fluid in time with every pulse of the song. I could only stand on the side shell-socked as he appeared to lose himself to the thrumming of the guitar and the pounding pulse of the drums. I always knew my partner had a trick or two up his sleeve. I grinned and found a dancing girl beside me, pushing her in his direction. She was startled but instantly flushed when she looked at my partner, shyly joining in his dance.
Hmm, now that I think about it, they may have gone home together that night. Not that it mattered. But the past is past, and needless to say, Vince was the best friend I ever had. Or should I say Vincent? It had always been that way with him. No nicknames. He was an odd one like that. He claimed Vincent was his real name and would not be called by any falsities.
“I may work for ShinRa,” he told me once. “But I am not ShinRa’s dog.” Stubbornly prideful, he was, and notoriously defiant.
That was, until Lucrecia came along.
I may have known from the moment that my partner laid eyes on the brunette scientist, who was lost on the thirty-second floor of the ShinRa building, that things weren’t going to go so well. This intense feeling of foreboding had washed over me, and I couldn’t help but frown, even as Vincent offered his arm to her and started to lead her towards an elevator. She had smiled up at him, flashing those perfectly even teeth as her brown eyes sparkled, and I knew then that he was hooked.
I thought it was luck when we dropped her off on the twentieth floor and promptly forgot she had ever existed. Thank goodness she was a scientist. They and Turks never interacted. There was no purpose behind it. Vincent never spoke of her, but I wonder if he always thought of her.
It wasn’t until a half year later when he and I were sent to Nibelheim as guards for the scientists and some mysterious project; Dr. Hojo, Dr. Gast, and their assistant Dr. Crescent… otherwise known as Lucrecia, did I begin to think that there was a reason for my earlier thoughts of warning. For some reason, fate had thrown her into our path once more. I experienced that same feeling of mistrust and foreboding.
President ShinRa had originally given us the bullshit excuse for a mission because he was angry. Although Vincent always did as he was told, he was also blatantly stubborn. I can’t even be sure what happened because the meeting was just between the two of them. All I knew was that when he came out, we had the bullshit mission, and he was trembling with barely contained fury. He never would tell me what had caused the President to be so thoroughly pissed, though I suspect it had something to do with Senai and Danano.
The two boys were twins, and the last surviving members of the Hanajima family. Vincent and I had been given the covert task of assassinating them. They were a new power company that was starting to rise, claiming that there was a more powerful energy source within Gaia’s minerals and that only they knew what it was. The Hanajimas were a threat to ShinRa’s business and the President did not like it. There were eight members in all, with Senai and Danano the youngest, only eight years old.
We had an easy time of it, the Hanajimas not being quite important enough to hire bodyguards just yet. I could tell Vincent was having a difficult time accepting his orders, however. I wonder how it felt to assassinate those that were from your own land? Although he never told me, I knew my partner was at least in part Wutaiian and the Hanajimas? Pure full-blood Wutaiian nobles…
But I think the part that affected Vincent the most was the order to kill the twins. They were frightened, understandably so, holding each other’s hands as they stared at us with shimmering, scared stormy grey eyes so much like my partner’s. My own hands were tight on my handgun as I looked at them and sweated, my heart going out to them. I may have been an assassin, but I wasn’t heartless, it was just a job.
I saw Vincent’s jaw tighten, his shoulder’s stiffen as he appeared to resolve himself to his fate. One of the boys whimpered and clutched at his brother and that was the last straw. With a violent shake of his head, my partner slowly lowered his gun and latched the safety, placing it in the holster that he wore around his chest beneath the dark navy Turk suit jacket.
“Vincent?” I questioned softly, shooting him a glance.
“I won’t do it,” he answered without looking at me. “I won’t shoot an innocent child. Fuck ShinRa’s orders. I still have my humanity.” He turned on his heels and headed for the door, ignoring the corpses of the child’s parents that lay bleeding on the floor. We had shot them execution style, as a warning to any other businessmen who thought they could stand in ShinRa’s way.
“What about them?” I asked gesturing towards the children. “If we leave them here alone, it will be just as if we had shot them in the face. They are only eight and know nothing of surviving in Midgar!”
He paused and appeared to think deeply for a moment before he reached into his pocket and pulled out his PHS. “I will let Leana handle them. They should be fine for ten minutes or so.”
I couldn’t help but gape at him. Not that I wanted to shoot those kids because really, it wasn’t in me to do it. We had been working for ShinRa a long time, but had never had to kill a child before. Or anyone Wutaiian for that matter. Perhaps Vincent had decided that there were lines he would not cross. And I would have to agree with him.
So perhaps it was because of them that President ShinRa gave us over to Hojo. Vincent and I didn’t even know at the time that it was all a ploy, that the scientists didn’t need protectors… but specimens. The President was not partial to Turks that disobeyed his direct order, and he had apparently found out about the Hanajima twins.
Hojo told me later, right before he injected my body with a strange purplish-red substance, that the twins had been found and executed. I could only hope that he had enough decency to not tell Vincent. My partner thought he had saved the kids…
He was a good man. Hidden beneath the icy exterior of seemingly non-interest was a tender heart that yearned to be loved. It was always so obvious to me. The way that he treated me as a friend, despite our occupation was a dead give away. He cherished our friendship. It was one of the few important things to him.
One night he had gotten drink, ridiculously drunk, and he started talking. And once it began, it was like a flood of declarations and admittances. He told me that I was his best friend… someone he’d consider a brother.
I can’t remember if I told him I felt the same.
Now I am locked inside this body that I can’t control. Cursed because of the whims of a mad scientist. I don’t know what he did to Vincent, could only hear the screams of pain and anguish. There were times I heard a baby crying as well… Lucrecia’s child most likely.
I don’t know what Hojo did to me either. In fact, my memory is fading more and more each day as I become more a monster and less the human I once was. My mind is starting to bond with this body, though I still can’t control myself.
Every day and night the memories haunt me as I cannot sleep. I can’t help but feel like there was something I should have done to save him. He was falling more and more into the pit of love for that woman and there was naught I could do but watch as he sank into the abyss. I felt so helpless…
It’s been… thirty years since I was locked within this safe, guarding the contents… a rusty golden key and a strange item called Cosmo Memory. I knew what the key was intended for. It locked my partner’s final resting place, a coffin in the dank and dusty basement that served as Hojo’s lab. But the item? I could only guess that it belonged to something else of Hojo’s though Kami forbid the man have any other creature within his slimy grasp…
I can hear the turn of the dial now, each tiny click causing this body I can’t control to tremble in anticipation. It’s ready to tear apart the intruders, ready to cast its magic on them and watch as the burn and die. As for me and my own mind, it’s been so long since I saw the sun… felt a cool breeze against my face or even heard the tender notes of music.
I laugh sardonically, the sound hollow and going no further than my own thoughts. I doubt they will get it right. Not many have. I can only feel pity for the poor fools that believe in the treasure of the dilapidated ShinRa mansion. This safe has been opened before, and each time this body of mine has torn their’s apart, despite my protests.
Hojo claimed I was a failed experiment because I couldn’t keep my human form. He wouldn’t have been able to know that I kept my own mind. I’m sure it would have amused him completely if he had known the sick fuck.
There is so little of me left now. Just these few scattered memories and tattered emotions. It’s like I am spiraling down towards the blackness with nowhere to turn… all alone.
A small click and the door swings open. I spot a glimpse of three battle ready warriors, none looking afraid at what they see. My body roars in outrage attacking them, but they are too quick, too powerful.
I can feel every attack… I can feel every burst of magic exploding on my body and I can’t help but feel like I should be thanking them for saving me from my torment. Only in death will I find peace, only in death can I be human once more.
As the blond guy with the outrageous sword leaps for the final death blow, my last prayer is that they find my partner and rescue him, too. Neither of us deserved Hojo’s cruelty, Hojo’s demented mind.
I only wished that I had gotten to see him before I died. That I could have apologized for my weakness and faults. I should have done something.
A flash of light… a burst of pain and this physical body of mine is no more. A smile, a genuine smile breaks out in my inner mind, and I can see something green and glowing with hands reaching, guiding… encouraging me to come.
They whisper words of love and hope, peace and tranquility. No more pain, no more sorrow, no more death… nevermore.